Saturday and Sunday the Bauls and Fakirs were in town. In Jadavpur town, which just happens to fall slightly outside Calcutta city's municipal limits, although the post office codes it in greater Calcutta.
Never mind the geography, here's my appreciation...
This is the fourth year that a dedicated bunch of people have organised this unique celebration of Bengal's folk music. They make no profits from this show, voluntarily work very hard to make it a success, and somehow keep it going every year through donations and measly sponsorships.
Why could it become too big to handle? Because big sponsors are self-centred and think only of the mileage they can get from the money they spend. They will want slick publicity, large air-conditioned venues, high-priced entry tickets, maximised advertising opportunities, saturation media coverage especially by television, and celebrity attendees among other demands. When this happens, mediocrity steps in. Mediocrity has to be sold through hype since there's no other attraction. Mediocrity will make itself felt through the ruling parties' interference in due course. Suddenly there will be security checks, shallow glamour and cunning artifice, and authentic folk music will be forced into the realm, and worse still, the control of the glitterati.
That's when the slow death thing will begin.
I think of it simplistically. These musicians keep going at their art, constantly honing their skills, widening their knowledge base, never too sure of where and when their next meal will come from, how tomorrow will fare for them. I wish I had the guts to do the same. So I do the next best thing. I help them in small ways, encourage their earnings through their art alone.
And the Shaktigarh Baul-Fakir Utsav must continue where it began. How refreshing to not have to tolerate ignorant bag and body searches, walk through metal-detector gates, stand in line for tickets, buy only pre-packaged food and drink of some American corporation, and be separated from the musicians by a high proscenium and bored police that effectively walls you off from enjoying the music utterly. The walls and roof of the “auditorium” are of sack cloth and tarpaulin, the structure of bamboo.
For the musicians, this place offers a return to an enthusiastic, unbiased audience. People come here for the music alone, and the music provides a rare opportunity for personal, social interaction which is warm, friendly and inspiring. Basically: a lovely atmosphere, great ambience. Going by the crowd this time, as well as the various other nationalities present, this Utsav cannot be allowed to become some corporate hegemony. The organisers of this event have so far managed to strike a precarious, and I might add, a precious balance between art and commerce, more in favour of the art thankfully. They have come together from all walks of life with a shared vision and the enthusiastic spirit to genuinely promote art and creativity without overt concern for profit or personal gain.
We need more such people in this world.
You can see some more photos of the musicians here.